|Ruth Glick: Paranormal Writing Muscle|
In a world where Tolkien dominates the movies and science fiction rates its own television network, it may seem hard to believe that publishers once swore that fantasy didn't sell. Especially not romantic fantasy or [insert gasps of horror here] suspenseful romantic fantasy. But that never stopped Ruth Glick. Writing as Rebecca York, she achieved best-seller status by creating "stealth paranormals" that flew under the radar of traditional publishing wisdom.
The recent fantasy renaissance burnished Glick's reputation further and allowed her to explore the themes -- like werewolves and the Tarot -- that long fascinated her. Recently, Glick took time out from her several series and single title projects to talk to Crescent Blues about fantasy, romantic suspense and…rocks? As she says, Ruth Glick -- writing under her own name or as Rebecca York -- ranks as much more than just "the werewolf lady."
What is a stealth paranormal?
I've been writing paranormal for Harlequin Intrigue for years. But my editor often wanted me to hide the paranormal elements. So the reader didn't find out that the hero was, for example, an alien prince frozen for over a thousand years in the Alaskan permafrost until she'd gotten to know and like him.
How did you slide paranormal elements into traditional, contemporary romance?
I slid these elements in by plotting a book that started off as conventional romantic suspense. Actually, the hero of Prince of Time, Thorn, isn't really frozen. He's in suspended animation in what looks to the heroine like a government missile silo or some similar installation. She's trapped in an avalanche, which also reveals the door of the facility. And going inside is the only way to free herself. Once she's in there, she has to save the hero's life. Then they work together to save each other, because the villain, who trapped the hero over a thousand years ago, has seeded the facility with numerous booby traps.
Why did you feel the need to work covertly?
I felt the need to work covertly because that was the only way my editor would let me write books with the fantasy/SF elements that excited me as a storyteller.
How did you get interested in fantasy?
As a kid, I was dyslexic and unable to read very well. Probably my mom saved my emotional life by reading to me. Some of the early books we enjoyed were fantasies -- like the Freddy the Pig books, about the Bean Farm, where all the animals could talk. Freddy was famous for solving mysteries -- so my love of mystery got tied to my love of fantasy very early in my life. As I got older, I began reading for myself, and the books I chose were primarily science fiction and mystery.With that background, what prompted you to (initially) write romances?
Actually, I didn't know that romances existed as such. But in the books I read, I always looked for and loved reading about a developing relationship between a man and a woman. One of my favorites was The Puppet Masters by Robert Heinlein.
When the big romance boom took over the book market in the early 1980s, I was in a critique group. I'd already sold two books -- one nonfiction on making dollhouse furniture and the other, The Invasion of the Blue Lights (a juvenile SF story), to Scholastic. Someone in the group asked me if I wanted to try writing romances. I said that I didn't know because I had never read any. She brought me shopping bags full of them, and I loved them right away, because they were whole books focused on that relationship I'd looked for in the other fiction I read.
How did you come up with your pen name?
I submitted a list of pen names to Dell when they bought The Peregrine Connection. Rebecca York was the last name on the list, and that was the one Dell picked. (They wouldn't allow any name that had either the first or last name of someone they already had as a writer. And that was the only name that fit the criteria.)
That's Prince of Time. Not to be immodest or anything, but Rebecca York quickly became one of Intrigue's top writers. So my editor, Debra Matteucci, let me do a lot of things that she wouldn't let her other writers do. Well, there was another reason, too. I was reliable. I always got the suspense/action/logic elements of the book right. But I credit Debra as one of the people who taught me how to write a romance that worked and how to bring out the emotional facets of the story.
The other person who taught me how to write romance was Mary Kilchenstein, who writes as Mary Kirk. She and I would discuss our work a lot. And she critiqued several manuscripts for me.
So, really, in the first romances I wrote, I didn't have a good grasp of how to plot a story that worked within the genre. I was lucky that I had the opportunity to earn while I learned.
What was the genesis of your "Moon" series -- Killing Moon, Edge of the Moon and Witching Moon?
Well, it didn't start off as a series. I got an idea for a book that wouldn't leave me alone. I thought it would be neat to write about a private eye who was a werewolf and used his wolf senses to solve crimes. I kept thinking, "who would buy this book from me?" And I kept shoving it aside, because I couldn't imagine actually selling the book. But finally, my friend Mary said, "I've been hearing about this book for five years. Either write it or shut up." So I wrote an outline and showed it to her. She said, "It's okay." So I went back to the drawing board on the outline. Then I started working on the book. And I was pretty sure that if I wanted to sell it, I had to write the whole thing to show that I could handle the material. So I did, while I was still doing my "day job" with Harlequin Intrigue.
I came up with "rules" for my werewolf detective, Ross Marshall. Like my reason why Ross is a werewolf. His family dynamics. And the struggle between his humanity and his werewolf nature. I picked things that would work well in Killing Moon. When Cindy Hwang asked me to write more werewolf stories, I realized I was stuck with a series that had to conform to rules I had thought of FOR ONE BOOK. For example, all my werewolves are alpha males. Put in the same territory, they fight for dominance. But I'm working my way out of that trap by having them recognize the problem and figure out how to coexist.
I had read Darker Than You Think, by Jack Williamson, when I was 15. Williamson made me want to BE a werewolf. The story stuck with me, and later I read The Wolf's Hour, by Robert McCammon. I loved that, too. Those are the two books that made me want to write my own werewolf story. Honestly, I haven't read much else in the field.
Do you plan any other stories concerning the Marshall family?
I'm writing more werewolf stories, although I don't want to exclusively be "the werewolf lady." I've got other paranormal ideas that I want to explore. (Which I did in Edge of the Moon, featuring the police detective, Jack Thornton, readers met in Killing Moon.) Edge of the Moon has my werewolf detective, Ross Marshall, as a strong secondary character.
But the story isn't focused on the werewolf elements. It's about an evil magician who is working magic ceremonies, trying to capture a being that he thinks is a "demon." The demon can't fight directly in this world, so he forces Jack and Kathryn to fight the magician -- and risk their lives doing it. It's got a lot of elements I loved working with. Kathryn has an Alma-Tadema painting on her wall, and she and Jack find themselves meeting in a dream world that's taken from the painting.
I also thought of a neat werewolf story for an anthology called Cravings. I got to thinking, since werewolves mate for life, what happens if a werewolf's life mate is murdered? I gave that fate to Grant Marshall, Ross's cousin. All he wants to do is rip out the throat of the man who killed his wife, then swim out into the ocean and drown himself. Of course, he meets the woman who changes his mind. She's a blind Tarot card reader, who memorized the pictures on the cards before she lost her sight-and reads them with Braille markings. Before Grant arrives, she's been "seeing" a wolf inserted into the pictures on many of the cards. I really loved the story. It made me want to do more with Tarot cards!
You get invited by an editor at "eH" to do a story for the web site. Often they are daily serials or weekly serials. I've done three of them. If it's a continuity series, then the editors come up with the overall idea for the series and a brief sketch of each story. They ask writers to participate, and each writer then submits a short outline. When you sign up, they send you the previous stories, so you can read them, but there's not a lot of communication among the writers. Usually they publish on the web site when a writer has a book coming out -- so it will help generate interest in the print book.
I've also been asked to do my own story for their web site, "Bayou Reunion," which was later published as a "bonus story" with a Jane Krentz novel. In print form, it made both The New York Times extended [bestseller] list and the USA Today list.
What are the challenges and the benefits of writing an on-line serial?
I loved doing the on-line serials. I like writing short, seeing how much I can pack into 10,000 words divided into seven or eight chapters, each with a cliff-hanger ending. The pay is good, but it's work for hire, so you don't get much additional payment if the story is reprinted. But it stays available on the web site, so new readers can find it and read you without buying one of your books.
"Silver Lining," touches on another very strong thread in your writing: suspense. When you first started writing suspense, who (or what) were your most important inspirations?
Really, my most important inspiration was Ken Follett. When I read The Key to Rebecca, I said, WOW, THAT'S THE KIND OF BOOK I WANT TO WRITE. He's fantastic at writing books that both men and women will enjoy. When I first started, modern Romantic Suspense had not been invented. So I also read Helen McInnes and Mary Stewart. Their books are slower paced than readers want now. But I was also very much influenced by all the science fiction and adventure novels I had read in my teens. That's why so many science fiction and fantasy themes creep into my books. I also read a lot of the well-known mystery writers to see how they constructed their plots. Robert Parker, John McDonald, Dick Francis, Sue Grafton, Jonathan Kellerman.
I had written The Peregrine Connection series for Dell. It was groundbreaking romantic suspense because it combined a strong plot with a strong romance -- where neither could be taken out of the book and have either element work alone. I wanted to do more. And actually, my next romantic suspense venture was Charisma, Inc.., a YA series that I loved writing. Both Peregrine and Charisma had continuing characters, and I liked the idea of assembling a team of players who could have their own stories and then go on to strong secondary roles in later novels. Sometimes they also start out as secondary characters -- then get their own story.
In romantic suspense, you can't keep having the same hero and heroine, because you must resolve the romance at the end of the book. So having an office building in downtown Baltimore filled with people who could be my heroes and heroines seemed like a good way to keep a series going. The Light Street men and women have formed strong bonds and strong friendships. I love having so many characters I can call on. If I need a doctor or a lawyer or a "mad scientist" or a space alien, I've got one on tap.
For those unfamiliar with Baltimore's geography, is there a real Light Street?
There's a real Light Street. Forty-three Light Street is in the Inner Harbor area, although it's not a real number.
How do the locals feel about having a romantic landmark in their midst?
People have told me they like walking around the city looking for the landmarks in my books.
What distinguishes Bedroom Therapy, your current novel from Harlequin Blaze, from your earlier suspense novels?
I've written two books for Harlequin Blaze. The first was Body Contact. They are both romantic suspense, in that the hero and heroine are forging a relationship against a background of suspense and danger. But in a Blaze, there's more focus on the sexual component of the relationship and more detailed description of the sexual encounters. Interestingly, even though a killer is stalking the heroine in Bedroom Therapy, the book has a lighter, more playful tone than I usually write.
Will Out of Nowhere, scheduled for release in April, be in the same (please, pardon the inevitable pun) vein?
Out of Nowhere is another [Harlequin] Intrigue and another stealth paranormal. The heroine has a very frightening paranormal secret, and I don't want the reader to figure it out until pretty far into the book. So I have a whole red herring plot going along with the real mystery! The hero is living on a boat in Florida, conducting a covert murder investigation, when the heroine literally drops into his life.
Do you plan to write more paranormals?
Of course! I love writing them. Actually, I just finished another paranormal novella for Berkley. It's called "Shattered Dreams" (the title may change) and it's scheduled for another (still untitled) anthology in 2005. I also have a draft of another novel, Rogue Moon, the story of Ross Marshall's brother, Sam -- the one everyone thought was dead. (His name wasn't Sam, but he changed it when he disappeared.) I'm under contract for two more books for Berkley, and both of those are paranormal, although neither one is planned to be a werewolf story. But I did think of another werewolf idea, which I have put into my "ideas file."
Do you have any plans to branch out into mainstream fantasy or suspense novels?
I don't see myself writing mainstream fantasy. I really do love writing romance-writing about the developing relationship between a man and a woman.
How does writing cookbooks enter into all this?
I began my career writing feature articles for newspapers and magazines. Some of those were recipe articles, so I've been interested in food writing for longer than I've been writing fiction. But I always wanted to write fiction, too. So I started working on a novel as well as articles. And gradually the novels became more important than the nonfiction.
My latest cookbook was an update of the Diabetes Snack Munch Nibble Nosh Book for the American Diabetes Association. The first edition did very well for them, so they asked me to add 25 new recipes for a second edition, which I loved doing. Also, three years ago, I wrote a low-carb cookbook, Fabulous Lo-Carb Cuisine, which my husband wanted to publish ourselves. We've done very well with it, selling mostly on the web and at various low-carb outlets.
How do you sustain the pace of writing so many novels a year?
I think that people have a writing muscle. The more you use it, the stronger it gets. I keep mine strong by working all the time!! (I do go on a fair number of trips, but I take my laptop or Alphasmart with me and work part of each day.)
I used to be slower. I used to think I needed six months to write an Intrigue. But to meet my deadlines -- writing for Berkley, Intrigue, and Blaze -- I've forced myself to work faster. I've found I can do a first draft in two or three months. Then I put it away and work on something else. When I come back to it, I can see the faults much better than if I'd just finished it. I can write faster, but it still takes me three or four edits -- two or three on paper -- to get the manuscript into the shape I want.
I'm not sure I have any rituals. Well, when I'm stuck on a sentence or a scene, I check my e-mail or get up and raid the refrigerator. (Unfortunately.)
Brought home any good rocks lately?
I like the rounded rocks that come from some beaches. I didn't see any on my recent trip to Florida. But I brought home some nice rounded shells instead. The rocks I bring home from trips go into the dry creek in my front yard and on top of the soil in my indoor plant pots. That helps keep the cats from digging in them.
How did you get interested in rock collecting?
I like the shape and feel and colors of rocks. I particularly like ones with two different materials -- maybe a black rock with a white streak. I got interested in them because I like the way they look in my garden. They provide something visually interesting in the winter when there are no flowers. Sometimes I stop at construction sites looking for good rocks. I can only bring small rocks home on airplanes. But if we're on a car trip -- watch out.
Anything else you'd like to add?
I built a sun room on the house two years ago. It's filled with all kinds of things I love: trees, smaller plants, a fountain, wicker and wrought iron furniture, cute little birdhouses. I've strung lots of tiny white Christmas lights all over the trees and along the windows. At night, it makes the room look magic. I bring my laptop into the sun room to work. In winter, it's an oasis of green when the garden is dormant. In summer, it's a refuge from the brutal Washington heat.
I travel a lot because I want a firsthand look at a place if I'm going to write about it. Also, my husband loves to see the world, so he comes up with trip suggestions. Sometimes I don't use the exact location we visited, but a composite of travel experiences. For example, it would be hard to set a suspense novel in the Galapagos Islands because the access to the area is so strictly controlled. But I've used the scenery and our experience of staying on a small boat for a week in several books. Also the adventure of getting out of a panga when the waves are crashing and rocking the boat around.
I'm not sure I can set a book in Norway, but I do plan to use some far northern country where the sun never sets in summer. (We crossed the Arctic Circle on the longest day of the year and sat on the observation deck of our Norwegian Coastal Voyage ship late at night watching the endless, not quite ever disappearing sunset.)
On the other hand, we go back to New Orleans frequently, and I've used the city and the bayou country frequently -- most recently in "Jordan" in The Boys in Blue and Undercover Encounter, the first book in the Harlequin Intrigue New Orleans Confidential miniseries.
One of the best parts of traveling is coming home. I have a strong cocooning instinct, so I have my house fixed up exactly the way I want it, and I love to be in my own little nest. And yes, I love watching Home and Garden Television.
Click here to learn more about Ruth Glick (writing as Rebecca York).
Jean Marie Ward